Category Archives: Digital Review

Google+ What?

When a friend sent me the invite for Google+ the other week, I was ecstatic. I saw the email on my handheld as I walked to my car, and as soon as I entered my apartment, I set up an account, friended a couple of fellow early adopters, spent some time browsing the site, and then went back to skimming Facebook.

Since then, I have checked back once or twice, like tonight, but I really cannot find a use for it.

Honestly, I like Google+ much more than Twitter. The only people who follow my tweets these days aren’t even people, they’re businesses, or towns. I count @Koreatown as one of my top followers. Sometimes I put up links to my articles, even more occasionally I interact with someone I have not seen since college, but most of the time, the site bores me.

And Google+ feels better than Facebook. With all of the friends I have accumulated, I don’t feel that the relationships are meaningful anymore. I can’t be friends with four hundred people, I have trouble enough keeping up with the ten or so friends I do try to stay in touch with. I am stuck with several hundred “friends” who I know a little too much about but can’t avoid checking up on.

Google+ modifies social networking nicely. I can choose whether my friends are part of “family,” “friends,” or “acquaintance” circles, which makes it less of a hassle to pick apart a news feed for content I really want to read. And these circles are a little easier to set up than lists on Twitter. I like that unlike Buzz it is opt in only. And unlike Facebook, I feel much safer sharing information on Google+, maybe because their sharing options are more straightforward.

Yet I haven’t really used it for anything. If no one updates, then that motivates me even less to try. My theory is that during this extended roll-out, the people who want to be on the site are on it, and sick of talking to other early adopters, and have signed off prematurely. Google+ needs to either open up to everyone or do a better job advertising itself. As of now, only one of my six friends uses the site on a more than weekly basis.

Like the forward-thinking Google Wave, if the company simply sits on this project, it will fail. Even if it is objectively a better social networking program, if no one uses it, then it’s no longer social. It will take much more than a beta test to determine whether people will switch networks to Google+. And at the rate people are using it, I don’t think they will.

Advertisements

Fearless Filmmaking

Write what you know.

You hear the phrase all the time in writing workshops, creative writing handbooks, and by interested strangers. Or at least I do. And most of what I write is what I know. In fact, stepping outside of that comfort zone: mid-twenties, screenwriters, Los Angeles really kind of scares me. I want my work to be honest. I want it to bleed authenticity—and I don’t know how good I would be writing from the perspective of a Toronto bike messenger or a Chilean donut baker. Do they even have donuts in Chile? I really don’t know.

Yet I admire those writers and directors who are able to take on completely strange subject matter. T.C Boyle never stayed at John Kellogg’s Battle Creek retreat before writing The Road to Wellsville. Lars von Trier never set foot in the U.S. yet directed Dogville (set in a small town in Colorado).

That said, writers, generally journalists, who do venture outside their comfort zone get my greatest respect. VBS.tv, a division of Vice magazine, is a favorite. Their far-flung correspondents form an odd counterpoint to the hipsteriffic publication the brand is known for. Since the website’s creation in 2007, they have sent correspondents to Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, and other world hot-spots.

This doc was spun-off from a VBS.tv report

Sure, the commentary never feels like CNN—“Moammar Kaddafi is a total nutbar” Shane Smith reports during a 2010 Libyan youth conference—but I really like that. There is no political slant, either. Or if there is, it feels idiosyncratic—neither right nor left, and certainly not middle of the road. I learned a great deal during a twenty-minute report on the Taliban in Pakistan (correspondent Suroosh Alvi: “there’s a pretty heavy vibe here”) than I could reading the AP. It’s travel journalism, but the kind that takes you to places you would never in your life visit. And I like that. I appreciate their confidence, their ability to see the world—all of it. I just wish some of that would rub off on me.

Eat, Pray, Bro

Here are some initial thoughts on The Hangover: Part 2

-Is the monkey in all of the scenes? He should be.
-Where is the other guy?
-If The Hangover is really the Citizen Kane of bachelor party movies—what does that make Bachelor Party? The Bachelor Party of bachelor party movies?
-It can’t live up to anyone’s expectations.

Let me address that last point. Sure, I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t really know what it’s about, but I’m already a little worried. Yes, it’s the same cast, the same cameos, and the same scenarios (wedding, party, trouble). But in a way, that’s what worries me; there isn’t enough to differentiate the sequel from the source. It’s a new locale—but I wonder if that’s just a pretext for an even more screwball plot. If anything can happen in Vegas, then anything will happen in Bangkok. The city could serve more as exotic wallpaper than anything the characters really interact with.

Of course, I like Todd Phillips’ dark sensibilities and I still like the cast. Phillips isn’t fuzzy, and he has no sentimental, Frank Capra tendencies. If his characters are self-obsessed jerks, then at least they are honestly that way. When Phil (Bradley Cooper) needs money for Vegas, he doesn’t simply come up with it off screen; he steals it from his students.

Yet none of this makes me optimistic. I still worry that this will be Sex and the City Two for bros. This isn’t just a summer break-out hit anymore, there are franchise expectations. That’s the problem with sequels; if they take too much of a tangent they lose the audience, and if they don’t they end up being boring. I’ll still watch, but my expectations are not high. Like that Orson Welles flick Phillips is so proud to mention, how much better can you get after Kane?

In Search of the Eighties

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite guilty pleasure websites: The Found Footage Festival. Nick Prueher and Joe Prickett have picked gold from a garbage haul of old VHS tapes since 2004. For someone who loves finding the tackiest item in any garage sale, these guys are as close to kindred spirits as it gets. Their taste is impeccable. How else can you explain a Christy Lane “Learn the Dances of the 80’s” tape?

From a screenwriter’s perspective, watching this counts as research. How did people interact in the 1980s? What were they wearing? What dance moves did they pull? I’m interested in quirky personalities, and nowhere on the internet is this demographic better represented.

To be fair, it’s not just their curatorial skills which I admire. They are also good editors. They take a terrible 1993 D-movie, Cyber Seeker, and boil it down to its best two minutes here—leaving in the goofy, awkward, and the worst of the bad acting.

Nick and Joe are not just curators, they’re filmmakers, in a very post-millennial, cyberpunk way. They take the video detritus of years past and fashion it into something beautiful. I would compare a good eighties dating video supercut to Robert Rauschenberg’s combine paintings. OK, I’m slightly kidding, after all, their videos may be a little more fun.

What’s your guilty pleasure website? What makes it fun? I really don’t have enough places to waste time on the internet.

A Perfect Parody

I stumbled upon this very funny video the other day on Funnyordie.com by Abby Elliott, one of Lorne Michaels’ better additions to the SNL cast in recent years. Here she stars as Gwyneth Paltrow, who, of all things, makes chicken during a very weird four minutes. I laughed all of the way through and then, thought, geez, that’s random. I don’t know how Elliott ever came up with that.

Especially funny moments seemed like something a star like Paltrow would say, such as the constant name-dropping. “Wes Anderson taught me how to do this” she says as she wraps tin-foil on the pan of chicken before putting it in the oven. Likewise, Deepak Chopra taught her how to slice lemons. A characteristic unfamiliarity with cooking (let’s face it, Gwyneth probably has had more personal chefs than friends) also marks Elliott’s performance. She curses when she picks up the chicken from the oven and immediately drops it.

Yet this performance seemed out of nowhere. No way would Gwyneth Paltrow, a megastar, actually release an internet video cooking a chicken dinner.

Oh, how I was wrong. This wannabe Martha has a whole line of lifestyle videos, Goop.com, that are almost as hilarious as Elliott’s video. In the real one, she is equally self-important, name-drops, and is about as unfamiliar with cooking as in the parody.

This raises the question: which is better—the parody or the primary source? In a mediated world inundated with parody, it’s a question not asked enough. Celebrities are willing to make fools of themselves, and can hardly keep pace with the comedians who are willing to make fools of them. More often than not, I would prefer the original over the copy—enjoying true life embarrassment and humiliation over the much milder facsimile.

Except in this case. Abby Elliott here embodies the best of parody—finding the funny moments, drawing them out, and remarking upon them in a funny way. So much parody is cheap, hitting the surface of why something is funny, the droll plot points—this person’s too old, too ugly, too stupid—that get old after the first hearing. But here Elliott digs deeper. It’s not enough to mock Paltrow. For example she doesn’t just wear a Kabbalah string, she constantly futzes with it, bringing attention to her faux-spiritualist aspirations. In parody, it’s not enough to wound egos; it’s those little slings and arrows that deflate them.

<!– Start of Funny or Die Funny or Die Featured Videos Widget –>
<noscript><div><a href=”http://www.funnyordie.com/?utm_campaign=featured&amp;utm_medium=widget&amp;utm_source=featured”>Funny or Die Featured Videos</a> from <a href=”http://www.funnyordie.com/?utm_campaign=featured&amp;utm_medium=widget&amp;utm_source=featured”>Funny or Die</a></div></noscript>
http://www.funnyordie.com/widget/featured/1
<div><a href=”http://www.funnyordie.com/?utm_campaign=featured&amp;utm_medium=widget&amp;utm_source=featured”>Funny or Die Featured Videos</a> from <a href=”http://www.funnyordie.com/?utm_campaign=featured&amp;utm_medium=widget&amp;utm_source=featured”>Funny or Die</a></div>
<!– End of Funny or Die Funny or Die Featured Videos Widget –>